AN MP has called for a fresh legal opinion on whether more than £250,000 in perks should have been paid to former West Yorkshire Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison after a report showed similar payments made to chief officers in neighbouring North Yorkshire were unlikely to have been lawful.
Bradford West MP George Galloway said West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns-Williamson should now seek a barrister’s view on payments made over five years to Sir Norman on top of his salary which included an annual payment of £34,000 for a car or cars when he was already provided with a chauffeur-driven vehicle by the force.
He also received an annual personal development allowance of £6,800 and £8,500 for “health and wellbeing” for private health insurance (including dental and optical cover) for himself and immediate family and gym membership, again for both the chief constable and his immediate family.
Mr Galloway said Sir Norman should be pursued for repayment if the perks were found to have been unlawfully paid.
But last night Mr Burns-Williamson continued to stand by the payments, which were agreed in 2007 when the commissioner held his previous position as chairman of the former West Yorkshire Police Authority. He said the payments to Sir Norman, who received a basic salary of more than £160,000, “were consistent with the legal advice received” at the time. He did not respond to Mr Galloway’s demand that the legal advice be published.
The West Yorkshire PCC’s stance contrasts with a number of other commissioners who have challenged similar perks in the wake of a Yorkshire Post investigation which revealed chief officers at many forces received payments unlikely to have been lawful.
North Yorkshire PCC Julia Mulligan yesterday published a report into payments to former chief officers, largely focusing on ex-Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell and his deputy Adam Briggs, which drew on a barrister’s advice that several of their perks were unlikely to have had a lawful basis.
Mrs Mulligan has asked for Mr Maxwell and Mr Briggs to repay £100,000 in total but has ruled out potential court action to recover the money because of the likely cost to the public purse.
The report said police pay is tightly controlled by national regulations, with very limited scope for anything else to be paid.
Among the payments highlighted as unlikely to be lawful were personal development allowances and an allowance for a private car paid to Mr Maxwell despite the separate provision of a force car also available for private use.
North Yorkshire’s legal advice was that a limited general power to make payments outside the national regulations was unlikely to be available for such perks if they were for personal benefit rather than required for police work.
It is this general power, under the Local Government Act 1972, on which the West Yorkshire PCC has relied to justify payments to Sir Norman.
Mr Galloway said: “It’s clear, given the legal advice and the recovery actions in North Yorkshire, the payments to [Sir Norman]were at the very least questionable, but almost certainly outside the power of the then police authority. We know – because I have had confirmation from the Minister – that the authority did not ask for a Home Office judgment at the time on whether these extraordinary payments were permissible. It seems to have been done on legal advice.
“Well, that advice needs to be published now and it needs to be tested against the North Yorkshire judgment.
“The man who chaired the authority which made these ex-gratia payments is now the West Yorkshire police commissioner. So clearly Mark Burns-Williamson cannot sit in judgment today on his previous decision.
“We need an independent counsel’s opinion on whether the payments were justifiable and it they were not then Bettison needs to be pursued for repayment. I will again be raising parliamentary questions about this shoddy affair.”
As well as referring to the 2007 legal advice, Mr Burns-Williamson added that independent external auditors confirmed the payments were appropriate.
He said: “After further consideration I can see no legal basis in all the circumstances in West Yorkshire on which I can demand any of the money to be returned.”